The Ripple Effect. Imagine a stone or drop of water lands in a puddle and causes a ripple that grows and grows until the entire puddle ebbs and flows. No matter how small the pebble, the effect will be the same. In Virginia Stage Company’s I Sing the Rising Sea, Granby Collins in Norfolk, Virginia is the pebble that sets a global story in motion. I got a chance to sit down and speak with Eric Schorr, the writer of Rising Sea (in every sense, from the Sondheim-esque music to the lyrical dialogue). I wanted to ask why Norfolk and get his take on our city.
BOY GRANBY: In the summer of 1933, I was eleven years old. My Aunt Maggie was a cook at the Nansemond Hotel. She insisted I get out of Huntersville for the summer and into the fresh air. She knew how much I liked the water, and she made sure I was, in her words, gainfully employed at Ocean View.
— excerpt from I Sing the Rising Sea
Kat Martin: Can you describe Rising Sea in a sentence or two?
Eric Schorr: It’s about two different interconnected stories that magically reveal their connection as the play progresses. It’s about sea level rise, but I’m not a big fan of issue plays, so it’s actually about people. Interconnectedness is a major theme. The character’s connections reinforce the idea that the solution [to climate change and sea level rise] is a global solution. Local people can react, but if it will be solved, it has to be global. Global Connectedness.
KM: Why did you set parts of Rising Sea in Norfolk and Ocean View?
ES: Chris Hana told me about the American Soil Series. The point of the series is to deal with local issues. So, I was thinking about sea level rise and the inevitability of Norfolk under water. I am fascinated with history, so I asked myself, “Is there a comparable period where Norfolk was flooded or underwater?” A quick Google search pulled up those iconic photos of the Storm of ‘33 that showed downtown being completely underwater. But the global nature of the issue needed a global component. Then, Rising Sea became a sprawling epic. The whole play being in Norfolk is too limiting for the size of the issues — the effects are local, but the cause is global. At the beginning of the process, I Sing the Rising Sea started with the boy and the world-record-breaking flagpole sitter and unfolded out of there. I wanted to take the characters down a path that is not usual for them. This led me to think about time and how it affects people. In Rising Sea, both the past and present are represented. While doing the climate research, I kept reading a lot about Antarctica. That place became an intriguing mystery. I started thinking about the scientists who live and work there. Who are these people? Then, without revealing any secrets, I figured out how it relates to the Norfolk story.
KM: How would you describe your sense of Norfolk?
ES: I have fallen in love with Norfolk. For me, coming from NYC, it’s a manageable city. And I love the water! The water is always present in Norfolk. It’s the attraction and why the city is in danger. The duality is interesting! And there is a firm connection to the arts and the military which gives Norfolk a cosmopolitan vibe because soldiers have traveled everywhere. Norfolk has a well-rounded population. The history is really rich. I am very interested in African-American history, which is so rich in Norfolk. In this pursuit, The Norfolk Journal and Guide was an invaluable resource. I could read real historical articles about the real people. I read about the segregated beaches at Ocean View and the military.
While I was here researching, I drove around the neighborhoods that are mentioned in the show, and that reinforced the importance of water. I knew I was on the right path while I was here writing because the Slover was closed, and the “The Sergeant Memorial Collection” was temporarily at the Ocean View branch. I could walk out of the library and be looking at the spot where the Ocean View Amusement Park used to be. It was right there! This made me feel like I was on the right cosmic track.
KM: What was the most exciting/surprising part of your research?
ES: The openness of the commission made everything about it tremendously scary for me. I had to start reading, and then little pieces began to stick out. Interesting tidbits would jump out at me! Incorporating some historical characters anchors the story for the audience by giving them people to hang their hat on. However, Sea is not a documentary so there is some wiggle room to tell a story. But you have to treat [the history] with respect.
KM: Why did you name your protagonist Granby?
ES: Maybe his parents lived or met on Granby Street. Maybe they strolled up and down that street while they were courting. In some ways the name Granby is also an homage to the dinner I had with Chris at a restaurant on Granby when we first began to discuss the play. I think the name also roots the story in the iconic images of people in canoes on Granby Street after the Storm of 1933.
KM: How does Norfolk connect to the rest of the world of the play? To Japan? To Antarctica?
ES: What happens in one location affects another. Ice melting in Antarctica influences the sea level rise and flooding on the east coast. If we are going to solve these kind of big problems, there has to be a scientific and humanistic solution. That’s why in Rising Sea we have scientists and poets as major characters. Granby is a humanistic scientist. He possesses the yin and yang. Having a developed sense of both sides allows you to function on a higher level and allows you to see solutions that may be missed by others with a stricter outlook. The most successful people in the play can embrace both science and humanity. People should aspire to find the balance between the two. I think that creates well rounded people.
Kat Martin is a Resident Theatre Artist in Virginia Stage Company's Education & Community Engagement Department. She is also Virginia Stage's Resident Dramaturg. Don't know what Dramaturgy is? Learn more about it in Kat's Staff Spotlight!